Wisconsin’s unarmed combat sports programs like boxing and mixed martial arts will be able to resume this summer, after more than a one-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, the state Department of Safety and Professional Services began accepting applications for programs ranging from boxing and kickboxing to mixed martial arts and Muay Thai, with events expected to start June 1, the department announced.
Department Secretary Dawn Crim said the state’s ongoing vaccine deployment helped allow for the long-awaited return of unarmed combat sports for the athletes, coaches, promoters, referees and attendees of those programs.
“People are just kind of champing at the bit for the return to sports and unarmed combat sports is in the same boat,” Crim said. “It’s been a little over a year in which we have not been issuing licenses or taking applications for events.”
There were 25 unarmed sports combat events in Wisconsin in 2019 and 27 such events in 2018, according to the department. There were only two events last year before the department ceased unarmed combat sports programs — which often are held indoors and with tight crowds — on March 24 due to the pandemic. The remaining 21 events that had been scheduled at that point were canceled.
With events expected to start again on June 1, officials say coronavirus-related restrictions implemented by the department will be lifted as conditions improve, while rising disease activity could force more stringent requirements.
“We realize there’s a level of flexibility that needs to be in play so we can quickly respond if things don’t go as positive as they are right now today,” Crim said. “The industry knows this, so we are leading with that. We don’t want to put out false hope or create a situation where people are excited and hopeful and then something unexpected happens that they were not aware of.”
On Monday, Wisconsin opened up vaccine eligibility to all residents age 16 years or older. More than 1.17 million individuals, or just over 20% of the state’s population, have been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health Services.
At the same time, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases reached 591 on Monday, up from less than 400 in early March.
Current COVID-19-related guidelines include limits on venue capacity based on disease activity levels at the time of the event, temperature checks at venue entrances, social distancing rules and sanitation procedures.
Face coverings will also be required for attendees, but can be removed temporarily to eat or drink. Contestants and referees are allowed to remove their face coverings while in the ring or cage. Competitors and referees also will need to submit a negative COVID-19 test a minimum of 48 to 72 hours before the event. Proof of vaccination will be accepted in lieu of testing.
Events also will have to follow any local public health orders.
“We have been working hard to get to this point, and we are excited that circumstances have improved enough for us to safely resume unarmed combat sports programming,” Mary Murphy Edwards, department deputy commissioner, said in a statement. “We know competitors are eager to get back to the cage and the ring, promoters are ready to put together events, and venues are prepared to open their doors.”